Replacing an existing commercial HVAC system can be costly and disruptive, and if the process isn’t planned properly, revenue and employee productivity can suffer. Regrettably, even well-maintained equipment will eventually need to be replaced. Most commercial heating and cooling systems have a functional service life of 15-30 years [1], depending on the brand and style of equipment. Retrofit projects are designed to integrate new components into existing HVAC networks. When practical, retrofitting provides a more cost-effective way to improve performance without having to replace the entire system.

Considerations for a Commercial HVAC Retrofit Project

Most retrofit projects result from nagging comfort, efficiency and operational concerns that can’t be solved through adjustments to the air distribution system or recalibrating the equipment. If your building experiences any of the following issues, it may be a prime candidate for a retrofit upgrade:

  • Is the HVAC system over 10 years old?
  • Are energy bills escalating without a logical explanation?
  • Do building occupants lodge comfort complaints?
  • Are repair costs continually rising?
  • Has the building developed an indoor air quality problem? [2]

An aging HVAC system will lose efficiency, compromise comfort and require more frequent repairs. At some point, the equipment will need to be retrofitted or repaired to restore lost performance.

Common Commercial HVAC Retrofit Upgrades

HVAC commercial retrofit options largely depend on the type of heating and cooling equipment currently installed in the building. Package rooftop units, boilers and chillers are typically the best candidates for the retrofit process. Here are some of the commercial retrofit services offered by qualified and certified commercial HVAC contractors:

  • Airside economizer installation
  • Ductwork sealing or replacement
  • Replacement of semi-hermetic reciprocating compressors with high efficiency screw compressors
  • Adding condenser fan controls that incorporate variable-frequency drive operation
  • Adding demand-controlled ventilation
  • Installing supply fan speed controls
  • Installing cooling capacity controls
  • Adding smart temperature and humidity controls
  • Installing CO2 sensors

The Benefits of Retrofitting Commercial HVAC Systems and Equipment

A commercial HVAC retrofit helps solve problems caused by poor air movement, fluctuating temperatures in different zones and high humidity. Even small changes like sealing the ductwork and adding economizers can make a significant difference in performance. Here are a few of the most important benefits associated with a well-planned HVAC retrofit strategy

  • Energy Savings: The majority of HVAC commercial retrofits are motivated by a desire to increase system efficiency. A new commercial equipment installation can save up to 40 percent on monthly energy costs when the work is completed by a skilled and experienced mechanical contractor. [3]
  • Reduced Repairs Costs: HVAC repairs are expensive, but the hidden costs are far more devastating. Unexpected downtime can affect sales, revenues, customer satisfaction and employee productivity.
  • Superior Comfort: An optimized HVAC system runs more efficiently, but occupants will also enjoy better humidity control and more consistent temperatures throughout the building. In many cases, drafts and stale air pockets are eliminated, and even nuisance noise can be reduced.
  • Quick Return on Investment: Retrofitting is usually a fraction of the cost of investing in new equipment, so the ROI can be as little as one year. [4]
  • Increased HVAC System Lifespan: Lowering the number of HVAC equipment run cycles will reduce wear and tear on vital components. Ultimately, replacing worn parts and making strategic upgrades can enhance the lifecycle of the entire system.
  • Control Expenditures: An unanticipated HVAC equipment breakdown can play havoc with departmental budgets. By planning heating and cooling upgrades and maintenance, costs become controlled and predictable, which can save money and help relieve stress and anxiety.

For Comfort and Efficiency Consider a Commercial HVAC Retrofit

Retrofitting commercial HVAC equipment is a relatively inexpensive way to improve the comfort, health and safety of your building. In many cases, the savings on monthly fuel and power costs can pay back the investment in three years or less. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of the HVAC equipment retrofit process, Therma has extensive experience in designing, installing and maintaining complex commercial heating and cooling systems.

By William Busse

William Busse has more than 30 years experience in the construction industry in sales, contracting, distribution and manufacturing. He has an extensive background in the mechanical contracting industry, largely from the distribution and manufacturing sides of the business. He has had deep involvement with a variety of large-scale commercial/industrial mechanical contractors, particularly related to value engineering. This includes process piping, high-pressure steam, cryogenics, thermal insulation and commercial/industrial HVAC.

Sources

1)     http://culluminc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/ASHRAE_Chart_HVAC_Life_Expectancy%201.pdf

2)     https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/office-building-occupants-guide-indoor-air-quality

3)     https://betterbricks.com/resources/high-performance-hvac-can-reduce-energy-use-in-commercial-buildings-by-over-40-percent

4)     https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/facility-owners-and-managers/existing-buildings/find-financing/calculate-returns-energy-efficiency